California Governor’s Sister Sits on Board of Company Responsible for Methane Leak

Brown criticized for slow response to ‘worst environmental disaster since BP’

Crews work on a relief well at the Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch, Calif. / AP
January 6, 2016

The sister of Gov. Jerry Brown of California (D.) sits on the board of an energy company that owns a facility responsible for what is being called the "worst environmental disaster since BP" as thousands of residents have been displaced from their homes due to a methane gas leak that is expected to continue until spring.

A gas valve ruptured at California’s Aliso Canyon Storage Facility in October in the city of Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. Multiple residents of the town were struck with symptoms including headaches, nosebleeds, and nausea as 2,300 households were forced to flee their homes; thousands more may be relocated in the near future.

The Southern California Gas Company, which owns the Aliso Canyon facility, has said that it could be another few months before they are able to fully contain the leak. More than 150 million pounds of methane gas have poured into the atmosphere to date, according to a report released by the Washington Post.

Many of the town’s residents have said that Brown has not done enough in his official capacity in regards to the leak, as he has not declared a state of emergency, nor has he visited the site.

Kathleen Brown, the governor’s sister, sits on the Board of Directors of Sempra Energy, the parent company of Southern California Gas. Brown serves on Sempra’s Corporate Governance and Environmental, Health, Safety, and Technology committees and received $188,300 in compensation last year and holds stock in the company valued at over $400,000.

In addition to Brown’s sister being a paid board member of the company, Brown himself has received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from Sempra Energy and employees of the company, pulling in $96,800 from the corporation and $7,200 from employees throughout his political career, according to California campaign finance records.

Since 1992, Sempra has made over $3 million in total political contributions, with 55 percent of those donations going to Democrats.

An infrared video was released on December 24 showing the severity of the leak. Many environmentalists are up in arms over the "ecological disaster" and the response time needed to get it under control.

"It is one of the biggest leaks we’ve ever seen reported," said Tim O’Connor, the California climate director for the Environmental Defense Fund. "It is coming out with force, in incredible volumes. And it is absolutely uncontained."

Sempra poured $614,486 into lobbying expenses between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2015, for "climate change measures" on a greenhouse gas reduction bill leading up the rupture—an effort that was backed by Brown. According to the company’s website, the group has also won numerous awards including Fortune’s "Worlds Most Admired Company" in 2015 and made The Ethisphere Institute’s "World’s Most Ethical Companies" list each year from 2012 through 2015.

However, despite the company’s efforts in regards to battling environmental concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund has lambasted the organization over the methane gas leak, writing of the severity of the situation.

"Methane—the main component of natural gas—is a powerful short-term climate forcer, with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released," the group wrote. "Methane is estimated to be leaking out of the Aliso Canyon site at a rate of about 62 million standard cubic feet, per day. The daily leakage has the same 20-year climate impact as driving 7 million cars a day."

The incident has led to numerous lawsuits against the company seeking unspecified damages.

The Washington Free Beacon reached out to the governor’s office with questions regarding concerns from the residents of Porter Smith as well as Kathleen Brown’s position with Sempra Energy, but did not receive a response. Sempra Energy also did not return a request for comment, nor did Brown herself.